The wolf (Canis lupus), also known as the grey wolf or gray wolf, is a large canine native to North America and Eurasia. There are over 30 recognised subspecies of the Canis lupus. A grey wolf is the largest living member of the family Canidae.
Among all the members of the genus Canis, the grey wolf specializes in cooperative hunting, expresses highly advanced behavior, and it is more social. It travels with its nuclear families, consisting of a mated pair, as their offsprings accompany them.
When the offsprings get to the stage of sexual maturity, they may leave to form their packs. Another reason why offsprings leave their parent’s pack is due to the competition for food. Wolves are territorial animals, and this is also the principal reason behind wolves’ mortality.
The grey wolf is a carnivore, and it feeds mainly on large hoofed mammals, accompanied by other smaller animals, carrion, livestock, and garbage. Mated pair or single wolves have a higher success rate of getting kills than a large pack.
Some parasites and pathogens like rabies may infect wolves.
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The average male weight is 88 lb (40 kg), and the female weighs about 82 lb (30 kg). Grey wolves may measure up to 41 to 63 in (105 to 160 cm) in length and 31 to 33 in (80 to 85 cm) at shoulder height.
The difference between the grey wolf and other members of the Canis species is its muzzle, shorter torso, less pointed ears, and a longer tail.
It has a powerful and slender built with a sloping back, large descending rib cage, and a heavily muscled neck. Nonetheless, the wolf is relatively close to other smaller Canis members, such as the golden jackal and the coyote, to reproduce and make a fertile hybrid.
The marked fur of a grey wolf is usually brown, mottled white, black, and grey. Although some subspecies have an all-white fur that has been found in the arctic region.
The grey wolf legs are averagely longer than those of other Canids. This enables them to move swiftly and also overcome the snowy geographical range. The ears are triangular and relatively small.
The grey wolf’s head is heavy and large, with strong jaws, a wide forehead, and a blunt, long muzzle. The skull is 9 to 11 in (230 to 280 mm) in length and 5 to 6 in (130 to 150 mm) in width.
The teeth are large and heavy, making them better at crushing bone than that of other Canids, although they are not as specialized as that of hyenas.
The grey wolf’s molars have a flat chewing surface, but not the same as a coyotes’, whose diets consist of more vegetables. Female grey wolves tend to have narrower foreheads and muzzles, slightly shorter legs, thinner necks, and lower shoulder height.
Adult wolves measure 41 to 63 in (105 to 160 cm) in length and 31 to 33 in (80 to 85 cm) at shoulder height. The tail measures 11 to 20 in (29 to 50 cm) in length, the ears 3 1⁄2 to 4 3⁄8 in (90 to 110 mm) in height and the hind feet are 8 5⁄8–9 7⁄8 in (220 to 250 mm) long.
The weight and size of a modern wolf increase proportionally with latitude in accord with Bergmann’s rule. The average body mass of the grey wolf is 88 lb (40 kg), the smallest specimen recorded at 26 lb (12 kg), and the largest at 175 lb (79.4 kg).
On average, North American wolves weigh 79 lb (36 kg), European wolves weigh 85 lb (38.5 kg), Arabian and Indian wolves weigh 55 lb (25 kg). Females of any given wolf pack weigh 5 to 10 lb (2.3 to 4.5 kg) less than males.
Wolves that weigh over 119 lb (54 kg) are rare, though large specimens have been found in Canada and Alaska. In middle Russia, large males have a maximum weight of 152 to 174 lb (69 to 79 kg).
Like other pack hunters, the wolf feeds mainly on herbivorous hoofed mammals divided into large size 530 to 1,430 lb (240 to 650 kg) and medium-size 51 to 287 lb (23 to 130 kg). The grey wolf tends to prey on the vulnerable individuals of large prey and, with a pack of 15 wolves, brings down an adult moose.
The variation of a wolf diet depends entirely on the prey available in the continent, such as hoofed animals or the availability of domesticated and smaller prey.
In North America, the wolf’s diet is based on ungulates (wild large hoofed mammals) and medium-sized mammals. In Europe and Asia, their diet is based on domestic species and wild medium-sized hoofed mammals.
The grey wolf diet is dominated by wild species, and if the availability is low, they become more reliant on domestic species. In Eurasia, grey wolves prey on red deer, moose, wild boar, and roe dear. In North America, wolves’ range of prey includes moose, elk, caribou, mule deer, and white-tailed deer.
Grey wolves digest their food under a few hours, and they feed several times a day. It is known that a well-fed wolf stores fat around the heart, under the skin, kidneys, intestines, and bone marrow for the winter period.
Besides, wolves are not picky eaters. They add small-sized animals to their diet, including hares, rodents, small carnivores, and insectivores. They are known to frequently prey on waterfowl and its eggs.
Wolves inhabit forests, shrublands, wetlands, grasslands (including Arctic tundra), deserts, pastures, and rocky peaks on mountains. The habitat depends on the availability of prey, livestock densities, snow conditions, topography, and human presence.
Mated wolf pairs remain together for life. They are monogamous. If its partner should die, it will look for another mate quickly. A wolf reaches maturity at the age of two years and sexual maturity at three years.
Environmental factors greatly influence the age of first breeding. Some of those factors include a heavily-managed population of wolves, an abundance of food, and an abundance of resources for the rearing of pups at a younger age. The minimum number of litter(s) produced annually by the female is one.
Rut and Oestrus start in the second half of winter and occurs for two weeks. The gestation period lasts 62 to 75 days with pups usually born in early summer or spring months in a frigid location on the tundra. Young females give birth to 4 – 5 young and older females from 6 – 8 young and probably up to 14. Their mortality rate is 60 to 80%.
There are some similarities between the grey wolves pup and a German shepherd dog pups. They are born deaf, blind, and have short soft, grey-ish–brown fur. They weigh 10 1⁄2 to 17 3⁄4 oz (300 to 500 g) at birth, and they gain their sight after nine to twelve days.
The pups develop their milk canine after one month. Pups become agile enough to run from danger at one and a half months. Compared to other young animals like foxes and coyotes, the grey wolfs’ bite is controlled and gentle. By autumn, the pups become mature enough to join the adults on hunts for large prey.